Tuesday, April 16, 2013

To those leaving or have left the Church. . .

As Chesterton once remarked, there are a thousand reasons to leave the Church and only one reason to stay: It’s true.

I read those words again today and find them absolutely delicious!  We all have our issues with the Church.  There is not one of us who finds the Church as she should be or could be.  But we receive as she is -- filled with sinners redeemed by the blood of Christ and served by clergy who are likewise sinners redeemed by the blood of Christ.

All of us can understand the desire for a church filled only with the holy and righteous, who do not fall victim to temptation, whose hearts are pure, whose sins are few or none, and whose wisdom means that they make the right decisions for the right reasons at the right time -- always.  None of us should stop working toward that end -- even as we acknowledge that this is a dream that cannot and will not be real until Jesus comes to drink again the cup with us forevermore.

But I find it both petty and tiresome when people decide they are going to leave the Church for this reason or that.  Some are pretty big -- and the sex abuse scandals are a terrible stain upon the Body of Christ, to be sure -- but most are pretty small.  Folks have and will continue to leave because someone in the pew or in the pulpit did not look at them or looked at them too much or looked them in the wrong way and feelings and feathers get ruffled.  Such are merely confirmations of the state of the Church as not the assembly of the perfect but the congregation of those declared to be holy and righteous ONLY because they are in Christ by baptism and faith.

There is only one reason to stay... the Gospel is true.  Contrary to the individualistic perspectives of so many Christians, if that Good News of Jesus' death and resurrection are true, then so is the stuff about the establishment of His Church, about the divine protection that hell cannot prevail against, about the stirring up one another to good works and church attendance, to the frequent and right attitude of faith at the rail receiving often the Body and Blood of Christ in the mystery of the Eucharist, and the Body of Christ the Church made up of notable and less notable members equally valuable to the whole and the head....

I know the Church and her members and clergy have sinned and continue to sin.  I know that there are times when we must make apology to those whom we have offended.  But there are also times when we must bluntly and lovingly say, "GROW UP!" to those who stand on the fringes or who nurse their bruises while piously declaring the Church unworthy of their affection and association.

There are also are limits to what the Church can, should, or must do to try to placate and please these demanding and demeaning would be saints who see the speck but not the log.  My parents taught me well.  The Church is there.  The altar and pulpit are there.  The Word is there.  You should be there!  Period!  You do not go because the folks in the pew are nice enough or the clergy are good.  You go because Christ tells you to go, because Christ promises to be there distributing His gifts and grace, and because to stay away is also sin.

Like another curmudgeon, this one Groucho Marx,  I would not want to belong to any church that would have me as its member.  Thankfully, the only requirement for membership in the Church is faith that you are unworthy of the grace shown to you.  In that is room enough for sinners all.


There are always a million reasons to leave. . . there is only one reason to stay.  Christ does not only bid us to believe in Him but to come to Him in the Church where He has promised to be in the means of grace.  To find excuse and justify staying away is to ignore the Word of God and the voice of Christ.  We all have wounds and we have all been wounded in the Church.  Much of the time these are wounds we have caused ourselves and each other as Christians.  There is no denying it.  But there is also no denying that to stay away is to stay away not from the folks in the pew or the clergy at the altar but to remain distant from Christ and His gifts.  So... get over it.  Get off you rear end.  Go to Church!  And if you must, hold your nose because of who and what you find there... and keep your attention focused clearly on the Word (written, spoken, and visible). 


11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well put together - and I see that there are a lot of people that are departing from church with the reasons you're addressing.

On the other hand, there are others that don't have a problem with the sinners, but reconciling the doctrine - particularly things like Evolution, which many in the LCMS call "teachings of Satan." It's hard for anyone to hear the voice of Jesus amid such things. But Word of God trumps discussion, even amiable discussion. :\

Janis Williams said...

"Word of God trumps discussion..." Right on, Anonymus.

But there's the rub. How many times have we heard, "That's YOUR interpretation," or "You can make the Bible say whatever you want it to..."

At the core for people who say we need women pastors, gay marriage, and all those "hot button" issues is unbelief. Do we really believe as true, the Christianity we hold? Do we really believe the Word CAN trump discussion?

Mea culpa, I am constantly pulled in the direction of that black hole. (I am not in the camp of those we discuss, but I am still sinner.) May God give strong faith to those tempted to leave the very source of their life...

Anonymous said...

i think i misspoke.

When i said the WoG trumps discussion, i was trying convey that there are discussions that get shut down and removed from the table. This is understandable, and there are some helpful and unhelpful things that come with that. various "rubs", so to speak.

I don't know that the WoG should trump discussion as it, among the faithful, should be able to stand on its own.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous-

I can't remember enough to cite the specific source, but I will paraphrase a point Todd Wilken made online recently that I think may apply here. Often those who desire to study, discuss, or bring items to the table are actually calling for a renewed attempt at normalizing or validating their heterodox or heretical teaching. Where the Word of God has clearly spoken and man desires a "discussion," the intent is rarely "amiable."

Do those that leave the church because of difficulties "reconciling the doctrine" simply need more patient and loving instruction (e.g. on the false teaching of evolution), or are they the ones who Chesterton speaks of, who simply don't believe the one reason there is to stay and are looking for justification in leaving? To proclaim "teachings of Satan" and dismiss or silence a fellow Christian honestly struggling, doubting, or seeking an edifying discussion is surely an abuse of fellowship and a failure to bear each other’s burdens, but to allow a challenge to the clear teaching of the Word of God, in an attempt to not “obscure the voice of Jesus amid such things,” and cater to those who have problems with a specific doctrine is equally unloving.

Anonymous said...

@comment 4

- paragraph one... yes, rarely amiable. but regardless of Wilken's assertion, i don't want to punish those approaching the conversation with appropriate intentions because of the sins of others.

- paragraph two. My initial comment about Chesterton is that i think it is some part of the whole story. I'm sure Chesterton knew there were other reasons, and i was affirming that there are other reasons.

- two as well... kinda is my point. it's difficult. my grievance was that it's voice of jesus can be obscured when the person feels they aren't heard. the lecturer can be "dead right" so to speak. they may be correct, but in the way they present the information, they push people away.

Anonymous said...

The problem I believe arises when Christians take the attitude that its ok to sin because we are forgiven. It is this justification for their sinful behavior that can often offend people.

Anonymous said...

To paraphrase Lewis:

"Saturday night's drunk is in the pew because he knows he need what offered. The prig in the proper hat and dress, silently pronouncing judgement over all others, does not."

Self-righteous is horrific, and yet, so casaully accepted by it adherents.

Pax - jb

Anonymous said...

To paraphrase Lewis:

"Saturday night's drunk is in the pew because he knows he need what offered. The prig in the proper hat and dress, silently pronouncing judgement over all others, does not."

Self-righteousness is horrific, and yet, so casually accepted by all who believe it.

Pax - jb

Anonymous said...

And then there's all the people who leave because doctrine and practice in the LCMS has become heterodox, and simony and nepotism run rampant.

L Brown said...

"only one reason to stay: It’s true"

But that isn't actually the reason most of the people who stay are there. That's not why they became part of the Church in the first place and it isn't why they stay. And maybe realizing that is what some folks are actually complaining about. Maybe it isn't that they need to grow up. Maybe they have grown up. And their eyes have been opened. And all the reasons (money, fear, privilege, family, ethnicity, habit, power, tribalism, etc.) that actually keep people in the Church and define Christianity for so many people are not the "truth" they're interested in supporting.

L Brown said...

That's a sweet line. But how often is it true? Aren't there lots of proper prigs in the pews? And in the pulpit? Aren't there lots of drunks who don't go to church? Aren't there lots of people in church for reasons other than their sincere belief in the truth of the Gospel? Maybe your sweet line is just clever manipulation of language used by people who are in the church to make themselves feel superior. Maybe it's the sort of thing most often said by people who get a paycheck from the Church (or who are married to someone that does). If the Gospel and truth were really determining who went to church and who didn't then why does it seem like race, ethnicity, geography, personal financial interest, family ties, politics, power, privilege, fear and tribalism actually explain not only who goes to church but what church they go to? And, for that matter, why are there so many different churches to choose from in the first place? Are the people choosing between them really looking for the one that is true? Is that what they're doing? Really? Or are the reasons for being in church usually as sad as the reasons you and the author give for not being there? Maybe you're the self-righteous prig.